After wondering for some time where to begin I've come to the conclusion the only possibility is in the middle, which is where I am.
I am a birthfather. I am reviled, distrusted, and maligned. That is when I am remembered at all.
I've come to recognize this because when I look for resources, ask for help, look for someone to talk to, I find myself my living room washed up on the shore of a sea of 404 html errors and vitriol. There simply isn't information out there for us. Indeed many people are more interested in taking revenge for their past hurts or demonizing a person in a situation they don't want to experience than there are who actually want to help. It is easier to envisage a person who callously tosses out a woman and child than to imagine the struggling with an adoption decision personally. Society does this with lots of demographics to make life feel a little calmer and a little easier to predict and control. If unplanned pregnancy only happens to the promiscuous, those uneducated people that don't use birth control, the drug addicts, the poor, or the foolish then it is possible to predict. If it only happens to "those " people all one need do is not fall into any of those categories. I know this thought process too well because it used to be mine. I thought I had purged it. I thought I had grown up better than that and I couldn't be so prejudiced as that. I was well adjusted and politically correct. After all I was college educated, working in my field at a prestigious university, and was very cautious and calculating in nearly everything I did. I learned that I am one of "those" people because chance and random events can effect me just as easily as they can someone else. When that happened I went to look for help and found it lacking.
Even those who do wish to help, including professional adoption workers, have their hands tied by a dearth of information. As my partner and I began looking into adoption we read every book the social workers at Catholic Social Services had available for us. The book that we both liked the best, The Spirit of Open Adoption, by James L. Gritter, very intelligently discussed the need for more participation on the part of birthfathers and also the need for more information about there experience. Very little work has gone into understanding what the process of adoption is and means for fathers.
Unfortunately birthfathers are largely silent because they are most often presumed to be "dead-beat-dads" who walked out on the birthmother the moment she announced her pregnancy and never looked back. While that makes for excellent television it is quite far from the truth. Many birthfathers don't know of the existence of a child until the adoption plan is already underway of the placement itself has happened. Those are the cases one hears about where a birthfather comes out of the wood work to claim paternal rights and wishes to claim custody of the child. Here in lies the danger of birthfathers staying silent. What little is heard is combative and unusual. The majority remain silent and do not address the inaccuracies of the media portrayal. As a result it's assumed that all birthfathers are going to be problematic and including them in the adoption process is considered an unnecessary risk. Being pushed off to the side makes the birthfathers feel even more powerless than they already feel (and there are pages worth of material on the subject of powerlessness for men in adoption) while also denying them an opportunity to voice their feelings and concerns. So to break it down, a child is removed from a man who feels it is his duty to act as the child's protector, while simultaneously pushing the man further and further away from the process for fear he may do something irrational or reactionary. I can think of one other situation that functions on this precedent; bear baiting. A bear is stalked to its cave. The baby is removed. The bear becomes hostile as a result of its young being endangered, itself cornered, and only seeing one way out the bear attacks. In the context of adoption the bear attack is replaced with last minute litigation.
Most men don't go that route. Most birthfathers disappear quietly into the night because that's exactly what they're being asked to do! Mary Martin Mason, author of Out of the Shadows: Birth Fathers' Stories, related in an article for Adoptive Families Magazine (found courtesy of Birthmother.Com here) that "[i]n most adoption cases, everybody wants him [the birthfather] out of there. He's a legal problem. The birthfather and the birthmother may no longer be a couple. What happens is, he often exits, and everybody's glad he's exiting." However, in the same article, another advocate of adoption, Washington, D.C., adoption attorney Mark McDermott marginalizes the role of birthfathers to that of a risk to be contained. "I refer to that as the number one way to avoid contested adoptions, by treating the birthfather as a real issue on day one," said McDermott. "By treating the birthfather as a real issue." Not a real person. I don't need to be Freud to see what ideas lie behind that choice of words, nor do I need to be Jung to recognize those are not humanizing patterns of communication.
But why should any of this change? Why should I be concerned about the way we talk about birthfathers? I am concerned, not only because I am one, but because there are so many out there that society doesn't see or recognize as men who have gone through a significant hardship that merits both celebration and help in healing. After all, every successful adoption story has a birthfather, even if he never knew it happened.
I have chosen to end my silence. I choose to speak.
I am a birthfather and this is my voice.